Pupusas are handmade pieces of flatbread made from a corn-based dough and are lightly fried. They can be stuffed with beans, meat, or cheese and are prevalent in Central American cuisine, especially in El Salvador. However, variations can also be found in neighboring Guatemala and Honduras. Pupusas are similar to corn tortillas or corn pancakes, but thicker and softer.
The main ingredient in pupusas is corn masa, a finely ground corn that is similar to cornstarch or cornmeal and is common in Latin American markets. The masa is combined with water to form a dough, which is then kneaded, cut into portions, and rolled into ball shapes. If fillings are desired, a cook will make an indentation with his or her thumb in the middle of each ball of dough and place cheese, meat, or other fillings in the center of each piece. The fillings are then encased in the pupusas by rolling them flat using a rolling pin.
Some basic types of pupusas include pupusas de chickarees, which are filled with fried pork and tomato sauce, as well as pupusas de frijoles refritos, which contain refried beans. In El Salvador, pupusas typically also have more diverse fillings, including shrimp and squash. Loroco, a tropical vine flower that is sold in jars at markets, is also combined with cheese for a common Salvadorean pupusa variation.
Generally pupusas are cooked on a skillet or griddle over low to medium heat. They are heated and browned on one side, then flipped over and browned on the other side. Cooking time is typically short, less than four minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the pupusa.
Traditional Central American accompaniments for pupusas are typically curtido or salsa roja. Curtido is a pickled cabbage and vegetable salad that is similar to coleslaw or sauerkraut. It is served at room temperature and placed atop the pupusa. Salsa roja is a tomato, garlic, and pepper sauce that is served warm and often paired with curtido. Pupusas are served warm and generally eaten by hand.
Pupusas can be mistaken with Mexican quesadillas, a thin tortilla that is filled with cheese, meat, or beans and heated on a skillet, as well as chalupas, which are deep fried corn flat bread that are topped with ingredients after cooking. Pupusas are served all over the world, especially areas of the United States and Canada that have high numbers of El Salvadoran immigrants. Typically, they are served as a la carte street food or bar food.